Introspections & Retrospections

Smoke Signs & Signals

I was enjoying my cheap meal at the nearby jollijeep when someone stood beside me and casually asked the tindera if they have cigarettes. She calmly replied, “Ay, hindi na po. Baka kasi hulihin kami.” (Oh, not anymore. We might get penalized.)

I tried to hide my smile as the disappointed guy walked away. It was too soon to smile, anyway. Just a few feet behind us, a long line of lunchtime smokers stood right beside a soggy printed NO SMOKING sign. Cigarette butts littered the otherwise-clean sidewalk.

As I left the food stall, I saw a tired traffic aide resting on one of the sidewalk rails. I couldn’t help but approach her, and note: “Guess the NO SMOKING sign is just for show, huh?”

She looked at me, smiled weakly, and replied. “Oh, there are roving security guards. But they (the smokers) always come back after.” Part of me wanted to ask why she couldn’t do it herself; but her frail form and tired eyes behind her uniform told me more than enough.

I gave one last look at the smokers, and sighed. Even if I said anything to them, would they actually listen?

It’s only been days since the Executive Order on Nationwide Smoking Ban took effect, which was actually based on Republic Act 9211. I felt ambivalent: will it really be enforced? Will people really follow it? Will it be, like most laws, be another knee-jerk reaction?

Don’t get me wrong. I have friends who smoke, and in my limited capacity to show affection, I can say I still love them despite their vice. However, there is no love lost nor wasted on smokers — particularly those who smoke in non-smoking areas, and/or without any consideration to those around them.

 

Laws and regulations are made so we can live together peaceably. And we all want peace. But why, why do we always have the propensity to insist on our desires, even at the cost of conflict?

It’s not just with the no smoking policies. Whether it’s about traffic, or littering, or jaywalking, or even household agreements like, we often find ourselves with the tendency to challenge authority. Sometimes, it’s noble — like when a rule sounds unfair or illogical. But face it: most of the time, it’s just plain stubbornness.

Like when our parents say, “Be home by 9PM!” and we roll our eyes, subconsciously scheming on how to bend that rule little by little. Then complain about how strict and unfair they are.

Like when our teachers say, “No late submissions!” weeks before the school project’s deadline, and we groan and procrastinate and cram and plead, appealing to their kind nature.

Like when our crush say, “No touching!” but we take our chances. From a tickle, a pinch, to holding their hands, and hugging them, to God-knows how far they secretly wish to go.

Like when the Bible talks about sin, and we criticize it for being outdated, for being oppressive, or simply fulfil our curiosities — thinking: “Nah, God will forgive me anyway.”

That’s our real problem, isn’t it?

 

I think about those smokers standing around the non-smoking signs, cigarettes poking out of their mouth like a middle finger to a seemingly-impotent law. Is there anything I can do about it?

Should I just walk to them, point to the sign? Would I be seen as arrogant, self-righteous? Is it any of my business to do so?

“Okay lang ‘yan, basta hindi ka mahuli/hulihin,” (That’s okay, as long as you don’t get caught) I could imagine some people say. But it’s not; yet, what can I do? Should I just wait and let the authorities do their jobs instead? If I report it, will they show up in time to really do something about it? Or will they just scurry away, only to return another day?

“Pwede naman pakiusapan mga ‘yan,” (We can always try to talk our way out)  I could remember someone say, a face that reflected both confidence, arrogance, and a hint of dejection. And it’s true. Authorities giving in to civilian pressure, because they’re also tired of being branded as strict killjoys, and so they let one misdemeanor go. Then another. Then another. Then another. Until they’re no longer capable of enforcing the law, because every one else would accuse them of being unfair.

“Sa simula lang ‘yan,” (It won’t last) — this creeping thought, which I also struggle with, is probably the most dangerous. What makes it so is that there is some truth in it: how many times did we have laws that started out well, and slowly faded away? And it’s not always about weak enforcement; most often, out of our hardheadedness disguised and excused as resourcefulness and creativity, we find ways to circumvent the law, if not to create loopholes allowing us to indulge our selfish cravings — without realizing that in this short-sighted chase for gratification, we are guilty partners to the weakening of our laws.

Last night, I stayed in the usually-pungent nicotine-fumigated lobby of my current residence. Something felt off. I looked around, and it took me a while to realize it. None of the usual smoking residents and staff were around; they stayed in their respecting smoking areas. The security guard, who usually would balk when a guest or fellow tenant wanted to smoke, spoke with more composure and authority as he calmly reminded a few dissenters who attempted to sneak in a few puffs. The usual condescending tones against the guard was gone; they left without arguing.

I grinned at the night guard. “Guess the NO SMOKING isn’t just for show, huh?”

He shot back a sleepy yet confident smile. “Opo.”

#

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